By Mike Osborne, MD at ICM Continuity Services (http://icm-continuity.co.uk/)

It’s that time of the year again, when the British weather decides to make itself known and wreak havoc on our day-to-day lives. With Cornwall having borne the brunt of the bad weather with the flooding, and the UK currently bracing itself for the snow, it looks like we are facing another challenging winter. The bad weather can cause a huge impact on businesses and can lead to a loss of earnings and even, in the long term, damage to the brand reputation. That is why it is vital that effective business continuity (BC) plans are put in place so you are well prepared to deal with unexpected business interruptions, and can keep your business up and running with minimal disruption. But where is the best place to start?

Keep BC plans up-to-date

The first step is to ensure that the BC plans are current and well maintained. A BC plan which contains outdated data can immediately invalidate any effort to protect the business. Details such as quantity and contact numbers of staff on the premise and any processes that need to be undertaken should be regularly reviewed by the relevant members of staff. It is now seen as best practice for BC plans to be broken down into manageable chunks by the BC manager so that certain tasks can be allocated to departmental subject matter experts — ensuring that the information is continuously updated and current.

Use all tools at your disposal

Don’t think that because you are not a large enterprise that you don’t have options available to you. There are many solutions available that specifically cater for the needs of the SME market. One of the increasingly new tools for constructing a BC plan is via ‘the cloud’ and utilising Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions that use the internet. Going down the SaaS route has many advantages for businesses as it offers a quicker start-up and can often remove the headaches normally associated with managing large volumes of critical data. By accessing the software through the Internet, it also means the BC manager can access the plan, wherever and whenever they require.

Involve the workforce

Compiling a BC plan shouldn’t just be down to one individual to manage, it should be on the radar of the entire workforce from the management board down to the staff on the frontline. It is important that everyone in the business knows who to contact and what the processes are should a business interruption occur. More importantly, when a BC issue does arise, the workforce actually wants to help the business get back up and running — don’t exclude them from your planning processes as you could be missing out on important input.

Practice makes perfect — Do a dress rehearsal

Your BC plan may work in theory — but does it work in practice? Whilst you can’t prepare for every possibility it is vital that the business takes the time to undergo a rehearsal to see where, if any, the cracks in your plan are and what other areas could be improved. Research shows that less than 50% of companies test their plans regularly, and those that do test find important issues/improvements. This is also of paramount importance for those companies that are seeking the BS25999 standard for BC, as each year you have to show that you have undertaken at least one rehearsal.

Action learning points immediately

Once you have done the rehearsal, don’t think that’s it for another year. It’s important that you take time to reflect on the learning points and make the necessary changes to the BC plan. Key points of reflection should be to think about who are the key people to inform immediately, what data needs to be prioritised in the recovery process, how you communicate with your customer base etc. Knowing what does and does not work against the timescales your business needs to recover, gives the business the opportunity to iron out any pain points and ensure that, if a business continuity interruption was to occur, then you are well prepared to minimise the impact on the business. Finally, many large organisations are now insisting that their suppliers have BC plans and can evidence they have been tested, along with demonstrating lessons learned. It’s no longer good practice, it can be the difference between winning or losing a deal.